Despite slowdown in virus cases, high positive, reproduction rates worrisome

Korea’s daily Covid-19 tally stayed in the 300-range for the second consecutive day on Tuesday, but health officials remained edgy due to high positive and reproduction rates.

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The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) confirmed 357 new patients, including 330 local infections. The cumulative caseload rose to 87,681 as of midnight Monday. Imported cases also increased to 27 from 19.

The death toll jumped back up to double-digits for the first time in 12 days as the KCDA reported 11 more fatalities, pushing the death toll to 1,573 with a fatality rate of 1.79 percent.

An additional 507 patients fully recovered and returned to their everyday lives, increasing the total to 78,394. The country has tested 6,472,679 people since Jan. 3 last year, according to the health authorities.

Health officials have been going all out to contain the third viral wave, which started in November. They are now struggling to deal with Covid-19 variants from abroad, known to be much more transmissible.

The health authorities also expressed concerns about the high infection reproduction index hovering above 1.0. The reproduction index shows the number of people a patient can transmit the virus on average.

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If the index rises above 1, it gets difficult for epidemiological investigations or quarantine responses to keep up with the virus’s spread. Korea’s reproduction index stood at 1.12 on Tuesday.

Health officials have been closely monitoring the aftermath of the Lunar New Year holiday (Feb. 11-14) and the eased social distancing scheme in place since last week.

The Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the nation’s 52 million population, is currently under Level 2 distancing — the third highest in a five-tier system — and other areas at Level 1.5.

Under the virus curbs, restaurants and bars in Seoul, Incheon, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province are allowed to remain open for an hour longer until 10 p.m.

“There are frequent cases of ignoring social distancing regulations in places that are hard to observe,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said. “We will respond more strictly to quarantine violations.”

To ensure that the public complies with the distancing plans, Chung hinted at the government could use stick-and-carrot tactics, punishing violators and rewarding those who keep rules.

“The government plans to apply the one-strike-out system to businesses that violate the quarantine rules without exception and will exclude such businesses from receiving the fourth round of Covid-19 relief fund,” he said.

Meanwhile, the country will launch its first Covid-19 vaccination program this week, starting with AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Friday, followed by Pfizer’s vaccine the following day.

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The government plans to inoculate workers and patients under 65 at nursing hospitals with the AstraZeneca vaccine and medical professionals treating Covid-19 patients with the Pfizer vaccine.

“As the government has responsibly verified the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, we request citizens to have faith in the government’s verification and actively participate in receiving jabs,” Chung said.

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